Eve since the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) molecule was isolated by Friedrich Miescher in the 17th century, clinical and forensic research into what the human race can accomplish with practical applications of DNA has stirred up controversy and debate. It is not unusual to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of modern procedures as they apply to our everyday lives, but when it comes to DNA testing there are potential and very significant repercussions related to ethics and justice.
In a way, the application of DNA testing into the fields of forensics, social work and medicine were destined to controversy from the start. Kary Banks Mullis, the brilliant American biochemist who improved the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for the purpose of boosting DNA sequencing, is known for his scientific achievement as well as for his polarizing views on other issues.
In the 21st century, DNA testing is used to determine paternity as well as the future potential of serious disease. It is also used in law enforcement investigations and in forensics as scientific evidence. There are pros and cons to using DNA testing for these important purposes:
Pros of Genetic Testing
DNA testing has become the standard in paternity determination, and it is having positive effects beyond enforcement of child support. In fractured family situations in which a father feels cut off from his child, genetic testing has proven beneficial insofar as establishing an unequivocal bond.
In the criminal justice system, DNA profiling has reversed convictions and set people free from prisons. At the same time, overzealous prosecutors and corrupt law enforcement officials are being discovered.
One of the most significant advantages of clinical genetic testing is that medical researchers have been able to elucidate certain interactions between major diseases such as diabetes, heart conditions and Alzheimer's disease. This translates into more accurate diagnoses, improved treatments and greater quality of life potential.
Cons of DNA Testing
Familial relations often present complex affairs that cannot be solved with genetic testing. DNA paternity determinations may uncover lies told to children or relatives long ago and thus disrupt an otherwise harmonious family.
Forensic use of DNA testing is not impervious to tampering, irresponsible handling and coercive manipulation. Genetic testing should never preclude old-fashioned police work, and there should be some privacy and transparency safeguards in place to prevent tampering of DNA databases.